Michael Douglas pays tribute to late Hollywood producer Saul Zaentz

Actor Michael Douglas has praised late Hollywood producer Saul Zaentz for taking a chance on him and giving him his first producing credit. The Wall Street star reached out to Zaentz when he was developing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest after learning the producer had also expressed interest in the project, and admits the movie mogul took a huge risk by working with the newcomer – because he had to finance the movie.
In a new The Hollywood Reporter essay, he writes, “He certainly gambled in his career. He financed Cuckoo’s Nest by borrowing against the proceeds of his company and its facilities, much to his partners’ chagrin. Our original budget was $1.4 million, and we ended up going close to $4 million, without any outside financing.
“We were both two virgins as far as producing was concerned. We kept auditioning directors, and all the directors held their cards so close to their vest, they didn’t want to show you anything. Then Milos Forman came along, opened the script to page one and started to share with us what he wanted to do.
“We were so relieved and excited, we definitely wanted him to be part of it. When we finished and showed it to the different studios, we didn’t get many takers – only United Artists, which wasn’t necessarily one’s first choice back then, but they did a great job with it.”
The film ended up becoming a critical and commercial hit, taking home five Oscars in 1976.
Douglas adds, “I think back to that great night at the Oscars. We were the favorite in some areas with nine nominations, but Jaws was up that year too. I had to persuade Jack Nicholson to go, because he been nominated and lost four times and felt hexed. We lost the first four nominations, but then it all started with screenplay, then director, actress and actor – and best picture. We were joking, ‘Well, I guess it’s all going to be downhill from here.’
“But Saul won three best picture Oscars, one for each decade. He was the epitome of an independent, with an incredible sense of material, and the courage to see it through. I owe everything to him. I was 28 years old and he gave me my first producing opportunity. I’ll miss him dearly.”
Zaentz passed away at his home in San Francisco, California on Friday (03Jan13).